Dr. Iyabo Obasanjo is the first child of former president of Nigeria, His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR. At 49, there is no gainsaying that she is one of Africa’s most successful women. She had her first degree in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Ibadan; master’s in Preventive Veterinary Medicine at the University of California; and PhD in Epidemiology at Cornell University. Today, Iyabo Obasanjo is a professor, epidemiologist, global health expert, veterinary physician, policy analyst, researcher, former senator. Currently lecturing Global Health at the Virginia Military Institute in the United States of America (USA), the renowned scientist took a rare break from her busy schedule to grant this exclusive interview with Dawn-To-Dusk News’ Online Editor, KIKELOMO IWAJOMO, on her success story, her parents’ influence, and governance in Nigeria. This is Part I of the interview. Excerpts:
You are a professor, epidemiologist, global health expert, veterinary physician, policy analyst, researcher, former senator. With your many achievements, my question for you is this, what did you do differently that has made you stay successful?
First, you need to get the best education that your intellect and ability can afford you, and then you lay the foundation for continued success. You can always go back to your education and let it feed you. Your motivation in life will be very different from people that don’t have alternatives. You have alternatives and the way you live your life then shows that. So wherever you are, you might not be able to get the best education that is available to the world because of limited resources, but get the best education that you can get based on everything you have. For you to do that, always work hard in whatever you do. Challenges will come along the way but always take the lessons, and do the next thing. That`s why you have to prepare yourself early so that whatever comes, life may take you on but you can always push yourself up, then move to another level because that to me is life: you can always find a different direction to go. I have been very lucky in my life that when I want to change directions, I am able to do that.
You need to get the best education that your intellect and ability can afford you, and then you lay the foundation for continued success
Serving as a politician, your careers as a scientist, and analyst, which is(was) the most challenging?
I think for me the most challenging was the period of eight years I was in Nigeria in government. I think you can write a book on governors in Nigeria. I had campaigned with this governor and later realized that it was not what I signed up for. But I liked the job. I liked meeting the people, interacting with them and helping them. I did not enjoy managing the governor. That was a disappointment.
Then I interacted with some people at the national level, and thought serving as a senator would help with solving the country’s problems, but what I saw at the senate was worse. As a commissioner, I probably saved people’s lives but as a senator I didn’t see that happening. The fact that everybody at the Senate was working for themselves, I just felt that I was a stranger in the wilderness. That was depressing for me. I did not want to go for re-election but that’s a story for another day. So being a politician was the most challenging and I will never do it again.
Being a politician was the most challenging and I will never do it again.
You come off as being extremely confident, did you take that from your parents?
Oh, definitely. That is very definite. In my childhood, I can`t recall the time my father said, “Oh! you`re a girl, don`t do that.” It never happened to me. I was never told I was a girl so I couldn’t do it. I think that is part of it. My mother too didn’t see limitations in any of her children.
What qualities have you taken from your father?
My father is very intelligent and I tell people this. I have met many intelligent people throughout my life. I have met some of the world leaders that we all know and they are smart. I think, my father is one of the smartest people of this generation anywhere and he’s almost 80. He is also not materialistic. He looks at problems and tries to solve them, which is what leadership in Africa lacks. When he made decisions, he might have made the wrong ones sometimes, but they were all in the interest of the country. His ego may be a big issue but in terms of money and material things, he doesn’t really care.
My father is one of the smartest people of this generation anywhere
I think we are both very outspoken, frank and we can rationalize issues and think them through. It means a lot. I think that I grew up in an environment where your ability to solve problems, read a lot and understand situations were very important. I didn’t grow up thinking that money was the most important thing in life. I didn’t grow up thinking that your parents’ money made you special or different. I grew up with the idea that solving problems makes this world a better place.
I grew up with the idea that solving problems makes this world a better place.
I have met some eminent Nigerians who are of the view that your father is the best president Nigeria has ever had? Do you agree with them?
Given the history of Nigeria, for even Africa in general, my father is exceptional. I think he is the best. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. There is no doubt about that because we have really had bad leadership. A few of our presidents shouldn’t have been made to even run a nursery school let alone a country. So, we have had that problem. I have mentioned already, my father is not greedy or selfish. I agree my father is the best because he was the only one trying to solve problems. He couldn’t solve every one of them but he is the only leader apart from maybe the ones in the early 1960’s. What messed up his leadership was his ego. You can understand the ego if you are that smart in a country that has some leaders who are morons.
I have heard people say, ‘God loves Nigeria’. God does not love a country and give you such kind of leadership. There is something seriously wrong because you have to question the kind of people that you get into leadership. I would agree that my father is the best leader the country has had and things would have been better if his ego did not get in the way. If my father had been born in a country that works like the USA, he would not be in leadership, maybe he would have been a university professor.
In the open letter you wrote to your father in December 2013, you said that was going to be the last communication with him. Has it been the last communication with him since then?
Yes. It has been my last communication with him. I am very straightforward. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I am a very practical person. I think all you have in life is yourself. I don’t owe anybody to solve anything.
I am very straightforward. I say what I mean and I mean what I say.
What would make you reconcile with him?
Like I said, I meant what I said and that`s it. If reconciliation happens, then I would say, okay this is what happened.
What do you have to say about the President Buhari-led administration?
I think President Buhari is a good man in terms of discipline and I think he surpasses my father in discipline. Self-discipline is the foundation for success, so I think he has the personal discipline and focus. What President Buhari doesn’t have is the intellect. I think about Africans and Nigerians, we don’t want to be frank. But he is a decent human being. God does not give all of us the same intellect, and the problems of Nigeria are overwhelming. I even feel sorry for him. These problems are not going anywhere, maybe in his time. Look at the problem of oil.
Twenty years ago, anybody that went to school would have told you the impending end of oil. It was obvious. When I was in the Senate, what I discovered was that governors spent the allocation each month as it came. They spent all the way to the new amount and dug a hole for the next. You don’t have to go to school to know the result of all that. Nigeria does not control oil price. When we told the governors, ‘you are going to be in serious debt’, they said, “Oh no!” See what is happening in the country today. With President Buhari, I think he is a good man, but he has a lot of problems in his hands.
In your opinion, what is the way out for Nigeria now?
If somebody wants to change Nigeria, two things will change and one has already started. First, sack the whole police. We don’t have a police. We have to face the reality. Accept that you have no police force. Then get the international community to send you people to start a hiring process to hire policemen/women. Why is Nigeria employing high school graduates in the police? They can’t even read. If the university graduates cannot read, we don’t need them. You bring new people, and train them. You cannot create a country when there is no police. The second thing is the electoral process. I think that has started in Nigeria already. It took us so long. If we had started in 1999, we would have been able to get some idiots out of the way. The options are not really good but no option is the best. Nigerians think their country is different. It’s the same thing in America. Election is not about getting the best people. Democracy is hard and Africans are not ready for it. They say they are but they are not.
Editor’s Note: This is Part I of the exclusive interview with Dr (Senator) Iyabo Obasanjo